Friday, 21 September 2012

Swimming with whales

Best. Day. Ever. 

In my life time, there have been few moments where I can pin point a life changing moment. These are usually heartbreaking moments, but I'm happy to say, this time around, I experienced nothing but joy.
There are a lot of places around the globe where you can whale watch but Tonga is the only one, to my knowledge, that offers whale swimming.  with this in mind, we decided to use our day off in Neiaufu doing something a little different.

Booking with a reputable company, our guides were quick not to give too much hope of getting into the water with the whales. It was early in the migration season, the whales may not be interested and it was a good idea to make the most of the day (accepting it as a whale watching expedition, a great way to see the landscape and also a snorkel at a reef) .  Our guide went through the rules and regulations (only four people in the water at a time,  whate the safe distance etc) and we left on a small boat in search of some very big animals.

We were not left disappointed.  After about an hour sailing about and sighting whales, we were in the water ready for our first encounter.  Being so close to these huge mammals was one of the most humbling experiences of my life - yes, I can hear myself, and yes I sound like a new age hippy,  but never mind.  Still I cannot get over the size of the humpback whale. 

The first whale was sleeping upside down when we snuck up on her.  When she woke up she swam alongside us before diving down into the depths.  

Three encounters later and I feel hooked. 

I want to swim with whales everyday.

* Thank you for Mr M.C for taking these awesome pics.

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Best Travel Blogs.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Take another swing

Just to prove that girls can do it too.  

 *Thanks to the swede for some of the photos, who incidentally has a blog here, a good read if you understand Swedish. last two photos by BZ.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Coral Gardens

I had the opportunity to visit this place twice within our time in Tonga.  If I thought the snorkeling was amazing in the cook islands, the Coral Gardens knocked it down to size.  Named so due to it coral resembling a well maintain garden, not only was this place teaming with fish, but also had an abundance of coral I'd never seen before. I spent along time following fish, diving down, taking pictures on a friends camera (why didn't I get one of these?) and all the while singing songs from 'the little mermaid.'

However, it was at this beautiful spot I also saw a sobering sight: local spear fishers with hi-tech gear killing little fish.  not even big enough to be worth eating, I couldn't understand it.

 Snorkeling from the beach its a little tricky getting out in and out (reef, rocks and crazy waves do not mix) but thankfully I didn't lose a leg.  If I had it would have been worth it.

* Thanks to Mr Biddlecombe, for the use of his underwater camera and for the first picture taken.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Mariner's Cave

In Samoa there were the Uptula freshwater cave pools. In Tonga there was Mariner's cave.  Guided by charts and the memories of previous crew, we found this under water cave on the side of a Tongan island.  Jumping off the tender into the pacific waters, I spent a lot of time staring at the pitch black hole they called an 'entrance'.   It gave no indication of what would greet us on the other side. So I kept staring at this hole  in a rock. Yep, a big black hole going into a rock which I was planning to swim through. any time.... at any moment I was  going through to who knows what.... Still, my fins didn't move.

Then,  a little reassurance. Our 'Scout' went in (or Mitch the engineer as he is also known) to check all was good. And yes, he did return, memories were correct and it was a 3 metre dive down through the hole.
 Some advise was given; don't come up too quick or you'll hit your head.

Finally I went down, using my hands to pull myself deeper and then along. Into the darkness I kept swimming thinking 'I better come up soon, my breath won't hole much longer.'  Thankfully a friendly face popped down to show me I've made it (otherwise I would've kept swimming!).  Perhaps I took the advise too far.

After the feeling of relief that I'd made it, it was then time to take in Mariner's cave.  With a domed roof, the cave had stella mites, a resident sea snake (which someone nearly stood on), and light pouring from the underwater entrance.  However, my favourite thing was the mist.  As the tide came in, mist would fill the cave and then disappear when the water came out.

 Leaving into the light was a hell of a lot easier than going into the darkness.

* picture by JB

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